Black Friday for owner after $8m in Bitcoin lost to landfill

James Howells wishes he could turn back time after throwing away a hard drive containing a fortune in Bitcoin
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

This must be the biggest facepalm ever. A Welsh Bitcoin owner is banging his head against his desk after throwing away a hard drive containing Bitcoin worth almost $8m.

Bitcoin landfill ZDNet Eileen Brown
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Bitcoin is a peer to peer electronic money and payment network.  It uses cryptography for digital signatures and it is difficult to associate with the identity of buyers and sellers. 

Bitcoin currency is gaining traction with online retailers with about 600 businesses willing to accept payment in Bitcoin 

James Howells from Newport in Wales purchased 7,500 Bitcoins (BTC) in 2009. Back then a dollar was worth 1,309.03 BTC so the value of his purchase was under six dollars. Howells stored the Bitcoin in his electronic wallet on his laptop hard drive and forgot all about them.

After “an incident” with his previous laptop, he stored its hard drive in a drawer and forgot about the Bitcoin. Earlier this year after sorting out his IT equipment the drive was thrown into the garbage. “All the files I believed I needed were already on my new computer” Howells said.

The value of one Bitcoin has now reached $1000 making the Bitcoin that Howells owns worth over $7.5m.

“As soon as I put it in the bin at home I had a second thought — you know you have never thrown a hard drive out before – why start now?” he said.  The thought was just “ a little demon in the back of my head”.

“I did not take it out — it stayed in the bin and came down to the landfill site with the other bags.”

The penny (or should that be Bitcoin?) dropped when he started to hear stories about the Silk Road site shut down and about other individuals making profit from Bitcoin. Howells realised that he had 7,500 Bitcoin on a hard drive that he had thrown out months ago.

Howells went to the council landfill site to try to retrieve his hard drive. Unfortunately, there is little chance of finding something the size of your hand in a site the size of a soccer pitch.

The manager of the landfill site told Howells that anything that had been thrown away “three of four months ago” would be buried up to five feet deep in waste. This site does not sort waste so there is no specific area for computer waste for Howells to look through.

The wallet on the hard drive contains the private key for the Bitcoin. Without this file, the Bitcoin can not be retrieved as there is no central server that records the initial transaction.

The waste is compressed and buried. There is no guarantee that the data could be recovered — even if the hard drive could be found.

It must be a terrible feeling, knowing that you have thrown away a potential fortune by sorting out your IT junk.

Howells spent six dollars — the cost of a beer on the purchase.  And now, as he looks out over the huge landfill site, his Black Friday is very black indeed. 

Editorial standards